From Black Canyon Rock Climbs by Robbie Williams
With its remote circumstances, tick and poison ivy infested approaches, loose and unpredictable rock, challenging route finding, difficult and unprotected pegmatite bands, and long committed routes of up to Grade VI, climbing in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not for novices or for climbers who are not fully competent in free climbing on big, remote walls.
In fact, climbing at the Black Canyon - Colorado's version of Yosemite - is as much a form of mountaineering as it is pure rock climbing. The limited view of incoming weather or unforeseen problems on an otherwise "moderate" route can turn a pleasant day's outing into a nightmarish epic. Remember that every climber needs to be thinking "self rescue" in Black Canyon. No helicopter will pluck you to safety. Still, for experienced, competent and committed climbers, the fearsome "Black" offers some of the North America's greatest rock climbing challenges in a wild and rugged setting.
Overwiew of climbing in the Black Canyon
All climbs are within the designated Wilderness Area of the Park's Inner-Canyon and you will need to obtain a free backcountry permit at either the North Rim Ranger Station or the South Rim Visitor Center. Both places have self-registration materials out front for after hours check in. An extensive "climbers notebook" is kept at both the North Rim Ranger Station and the South Rim Visitor Center for reference. You can copy the descriptions and topos.
Don't underestimate the scope of undertaking a climb from the depths of the gorge. Besides a full complement of standard big wall gear, you'll need plenty of water, clothing to stay warm and dry, and emergency bivy gear. You should also have a second rope to facilitate retreat. Rescue is difficult-to-impossible in this terrain.
Approaches range from descending draws on simple hiker's trails, to arduous, multi-raps down gullies choked with boulders, brush and ticks. Along the river are many bivy sites; but also there's poison ivy in abundance.
Most routes are located on he North Rim. Remember these climbs face south, and the dark rock can be almost too hot to touch during the hot summer days. South Rim has less climbs, and more difficult approaches.
Maiden Voyage is located on the North Rim of the Canyon.
To reach the North Rim: Take Hwy 92 past the town of Crawford and turn right (west) onto the North Rim Road, follow the signs for the national park for 11 miles to the North Rim Ranger Station and the North Rim Drive. The first half of the road is paved; the second half is graveled, but suitable for all vehicles. The road and the North Rim Ranger station are closed in the winter.
Note there is no road that links the rims within the National Park - you have to drive around. It is more than 70 miles.
To reach base of the Maiden Voyage climb, you need to descent via Cruise Gully. The best place to park is either Ranger Station, or the entry to the campground. From the campground (little less walk), walk towards the ranger station. Look for a well established path on your right that leads into the trees, located about 50 yards past the SOB trailhead and 100 yards up from the ranger station.
The descent is class 3-4 scramble, with 2 rappels near the end. Both rappels had fixed static lines.
Maiden Voyage is located on the Checkerboard Wall, which you will see on your left just below the rappels (upstream). The climb is pretty obvious from this point.
Images from the descent via Cruise GullyThe Cruise Gully descent to the base of Maiden Voyage is described above. The gully is narrow, so it is hard to get lost, however be cautious. There is a lot of loose rock and exposure. This is not a hiking trail and you have to climb up if you decide to bail on your route. There are 2 fixed rope rappel station, climbing up would involve 5th class.
Poison Ivy - there is none above the rappels, you will encounter the first batch of poison ivy between rappel 1 and 2. Try to keep the fixed rope line out of it. There is plenty of poison ivy below the rappel.
Route DescriptionThe first ascent was by Layton Kor and John Kerr; July 31, 1962.
Maiden Voyage is one of the most climbed routes in the Black Canyon, and for good reason - the rock is clean, ample protection, easier rating (only 1 pitch is 5.9), and relatively short - total of 6 pitches (could be combined into 4 easily). This is truly a great route, fun for experienced climbers, and a great introductory climb in the canyon. The route ascends fun pitches of moderate climbing before topping out on the summit pinnacle, you get to climb slab, corner, crack, overhang. The route is very popular with guides, so you may run into a guided party during the high season as we did our first time. The 6th = last pitch leads to the summit of somewhat a separate tower, and you will have to rappel down the last pitch, and walk off from here. The last pitch is definitively worth doing - it gives you a summit feel and amazing views into both sides of the canyon.
This climb begins on the southwest arete of Checkerboard Wall, just below a prominent right-facing corner system that sweeps up the arete. One of the most obvious routes/lines in the canyon. Please note that the climb itself is not on the wall facing the river, but rather on a wall going into a small side canyon.
Photo named "Maiden Voyage Overview" (see above) depicts the start of the route pretty well, and there is a path leading to its base. Two blue x marks show the place where you want to finish your first pitch. There are NO fixed anchors there, but really nice cracks for # 2 -4 cams making secure belay station really easy. The route is one of the easiest to follow. Enjoy!
|Pitch Number and rating||Image 1||Image 2||Image 3||Brief description|
|Pitch 1 - 5.6||Begin just left of the steep overhanging corner on the southwest arete. Climb the face and move to the right in order to gain the main corner system 20 feet off the ground. Climb this corner system to a belay station in an alcove below a small roof. Nice cracks for anchoring, the station is little sloping and relatively comfortable even for 3 climbers. The pitch is short ~ 30 meters and could be combined with pitch 2 (even if using 60 meter rope).|
|Pitch 2 - 5.9||THE CRUX! Climb the crack over the bulge and into a right facing corner (crux). Follow the low angle finger, hand and fist crack to a ledge below a wide crack. This 2nd ledge=belay station is a nice and comfortable one. The overhang has good handholds and not as difficult as it appears. It protects really well. This pitch is short ~ 25 meters and could be combined with pitch 1 (60 meter rope sufficient).|
|Pitch 3 - 5.7-5.8||Climb the wide crack (#4 camalot is useful here), use face holds on the right side of the crack. Head straight up to a roof that may be climbed on the left or right. 5.7 if going straight up (to the left), or 5.8 if going right and traversing under the roof. Belay on a small sloping ledge below a large dihedral with double cracks. We did the 5.8 option, which was fun. I sometimes continue higher up and combine Pitch 3 and 4 together.|
|Pitch 4 - 5.7||Gain the double hand - and fist cracks above with a corner system. Belay on a ledge. Really fun pitch. As mentioned above, could be combined nicely with a pitch 3 to make the climb faster. Protects really well.|
|Pitch 5 - 5.6||Continue up the right facing dihedral to a bushy large ledge with trees just below the summit block. Exit left here on a good path or continue via the next pitch to the top of the summit block. It is definitively worth to do the summit.|
|Pitch 6 - 5.6||Climb to the summit on either face, or crack. Many options exists. We chose the crack, which was off width and seemed a little awkward initially. The face climb would involve long run-outs. You have to walk to your left to find this wide crack. I have done it now 3x and find it less awkward now and more enjoyable. Near the top was a loose rock, pay attention.|
Return involves rappel from the top of the summit block (there is a rappel anchor set up), and hiking out of the canyon. It is so unusual to finish a climb and hike up!
Our gear included 2 ropes on the first trip. 2nd time I brought 70 meter rope, which was sufficient for the rappel down from the top of the summit block = 6th pitch.
The Cruise Gully raps required 2 ropes in the past, but since the rap stations are currently equipped with fixed static lines for rappel, you don't have to use your rope. Those ropes are so dirty - get ready for really black hands.
Rack: slings, small to medium size nuts, whole set of C3 and C4 (black diamond camalots), doubles on # 0.75, # 1, #2, and #3, one #4. Number 4 camalot was very useful in the wide crack.
Personal climbing gear: harness, rock shoes, helmet.
Plenty of water.
Consider head lamp. The walk off is about 1/2 hr, and can be challenging in the dark.
I was so excited to finally make it down to Black Canyon and be able to climb there. I did several hikes, but this was another excitement! The walls and rock were superb, a truly amazing feeling inside the canyon. I can't wait to go back - yes, back to this climb and also trying some other ones.
Just the descent seemed like an adventure, and then the climb up, and a short rappel down, followed by hiking up via a different gully with lots of exposure. The scenery is spectacular, magic, and meditative... Hard to describe, come and experience it yourself...